- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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On the day Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew fired Jim Schwartz, the two of them sat at a dais and explained how their new hire needed to get them “over the hump” and how they had one of the top openings in the NFL.
But more than anything, they also insisted they would give an exhaustive search in finding the right coach for Detroit, the coach who could do what none of the others in the past have been able to -- create a consistent winner and get to a Super Bowl. This is, after all, a franchise where the history is losing, losing and more losing.
They wanted to find the "right fit" for the Lions. And all those cliches aside, that is what they have to do.
“We will go through the process,” Lewand said. “I think going through a thorough process is extremely important. That doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a long process, but it has to be a thorough process. We will go through a process of interviews and research to make sure that we find the best fit for the Detroit Lions.”
Doesn’t feel like it now. Detroit lost out on its top candidate, Ken Whisenhunt. It didn’t even receive an opportunity to seriously interview another, Lovie Smith.
For all of Detroit’s talk about a thorough search for an attractive opening, right now, the Lions don’t appear to be as attractive and from the choices that have been mentioned as considered thus far, feels like a narrower search than a thorough one.
Detroit has interviewed, at least as what is known publicly, four candidates. All are essentially different variations of the same mold of a coach -- head coaching experience on the NFL level, offensive mind. In three of the four cases, they have experience with quarterbacks.
When the Lions were going after Whisenhunt, a coordinator in demand, it made sense to focus on him and push it if he was identified as your top choice. But he chose Tennessee over Detroit on Monday night, leaving the Lions hunting through the rest of their candidates.
And here’s the point. No one is hiring any of the other candidates immediately. Cleveland might go after Mike Munchak and he has talked with other teams about becoming their offensive line coach, so if he is Detroit’s No. 2 choice, then maybe the Lions have to make a decision. No one still with an opening has publicly tried to interview Jim Caldwell. Gary Kubiak is talking with teams about offensive coordinator positions, not head coaching jobs.
So wait. Take your time, Detroit. Be thorough. Expand your idea since Whisenhunt is no longer an option and Smith never truly was. Go back to the beginning. Wait to talk to Adam Gase from Denver or Seattle’s Darrell Bevell or Dan Quinn or even San Francisco’s Greg Roman. They may not have the head coaching experience, but at this point, anyone the Lions hire will not have the feeling of a sure thing, can’t-miss hire. There will be risk.
Or fully investigate the college route again. There has been no evidence Detroit has tried to look into this or fully vetted any potential college candidates -- even ones with prior NFL experience. The college break worked well for Pete Carroll in Seattle and Chip Kelly had success in his first year in the NFL. Not every coach can make the successful leap from college to the pros, but it might be worth seeing if there is a guy who makes sense on that level.
To be fair, it is possible Detroit has investigated some college candidates. It is possible there are names the Lions have spoken with that haven’t been reported or discovered on the college level because even rumors of a college coach searching could send recruits flying away.
But the reality is none of these candidates are really going anywhere now. They are all available to you, either now or after their teams lose. Perception has changed. The favorite is gone. Now, if Detroit hires anyone else -- at least among the current names -- in the next day or so, it will look like settling.
With this hire, especially after losing out on Whisenhunt and big talk about being such a strong job, initial perception is going to be important. So relax, let things settle down and go talk to more candidates. If Caldwell or Munchak are still your top guy after that, then hire them. Then you can sit there and say confidently you looked everywhere and feel like this is the best available choice.
Right now, it doesn’t feel like that. It just feels like the Lions are looking to settle for the best available choice of the remaining options that were initially presented.